A jury today sentenced convicted Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to the death penalty, as support among Americans for the death penalty is declining, but still the majority view.
Pew Research conducted a poll in April that found 56 percent of Americans support the death penalty and 38 percent oppose it. In 1995, 78 percent of Americans favored the death penalty, but support has sharply declined ever since. Opposition to the death penalty bottomed out in 1995 at 18 percent and has steadily climbed.
The Pew poll indicated only 40 percent of Democrats support the death penalty, compared to 77 percent of Republicans.
Viewpoints among racial groups vary widely. Sixty-three percent of whites favor the death penalty, contrasted to 34 percent of blacks and 45 percent of Hispanics. Seventy-seven percent of blacks say minorities are more likely to receive death sentences for similar crimes committed by whites. Whites are evenly divided on the issue of disproportionate death sentences.
Attitudes about the death penalty vary widely between supporters and opponents. For example, 90 percent of those who favor the death penalty view it as morally justified, while only 26 percent of opponents agree it is morally justified. Forty-two percent of supporters believe minorities are more likely to be sentenced to death, while 68 percent of opponents hold that belief.
Interestingly, 49 percent of death penalty supporters doubt it as a deterrent to crime; 78 percent of opponents share that doubt. Sixty-three percent of supporters and 84 percent of opponents acknowledge "some risk of putting innocent people to death."
Data shows death row executions peaked in 1999 and have fallen since then. Six states have abolished the death penalty since 2004. By far and away, the largest percentage of executions occur in Southern states.
Another factor influencing views about the death penalty is how long appeals take, leaving people on death rows for decades. Critics of the death penalty have pointed to the extra judicial and incarceration costs posed by death sentences.
The Boston jury's verdict today won't be the last word on Tsarnaev's death sentence, which could take years to unfold. By then, support for the death penalty may have eroded even further.